Blankets & Brooms: The Problem of Generalizations

Here's a few things you might know about me: 

I'm a man.
I'm white.
I identify as a Christian.
I'm a Democrat.
And I'm gay.

And you may think you know who I am because you know one or two of these things about me. 
You would be wrong!

Not to generalize, but I think that's true of everyone we meet.
Each of us have many facets, and we aren't (we shouldn't be) defined by any one of those elements about us.
We belong to many groups, but shouldn't be judged by someone's prejudices of that group.

EXAMPLE: I live in Texas. During the last election, there was talk among some extremist GOP legislators/leaders about secession from the United States if Hillary Clinton were elected. (Of course, some assumed if she were elected, Jesus would return and bring about the end of the world, so it probably would be a wash.) It made national news.

I'd see those who would discuss this online with statements like "Well, it's Texas. What do you expect?" 
I read indictments (from so-called Progressives) about “all Texans” and more than a few folks who suggested letting Texas exit the United States, with “good riddance.”

As someone who lives in Texas, I also live in a near-constant state of frustration (and embarrassment) about Texas politics and the rantings of our right-wing politicians. Our Tea Party leaders have a tendency to live in an idealized "good old days," resist change, have a vendetta against LGBTQ people, and say the most idiotic things.

So, I didn't like being included in generalized assumptions, assessments and accusations about "all Texans." 
I didn't appreciate being lumped in with a political ideology I abhor, or with politicians I'm working to defeat.
It's annoying, erroneous and dismissive.
I was offended!
Because while I live in Texas, I don't see myself as a Texan. In fact, because of the lunacy of Texas politics and the prevailing mindset of Conservative/Fundamental "christianity" in the state, there are many times I feel the need to apologize for living here. (I mean, we did inflict George W. Bush, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry onto the country.) 

We all use generalizations. (And that statement is proof!)
It was Mark Twain who’s credited with saying, "Every generalization is dangerous, especially this one."
I concur with Mr. Twain. The danger is they are not only inaccurate, they can be hurtful.

Sweeping generalities and blanket stereotypes are easy, and often employed as a quick rebuttal in an argument or as a cheap punchline, whether it’s about women drivers, blondes, or Polish people.

Employing the word or the idea of "all" when talking about groups is a generalization. ("All black people," "All Jews," "All Muslims," "All Christians")

When we talk about "those people" or "they always," we've generalized.

Generalization includes using "we" "everyone" or "us" when speaking, as if you represent the views of everyone.

EXAMPLE: In a recent political discussion on my Facebook page, a man made a sweeping indictment of Hillary Clinton, based solely on legislation signed into law by her husband. And he used the phrase “we gay men” will never forgive her.
I challenged him on his blanket "all gay men" statement, which I pointed out did not include me, a gay man. In a private message, I asked that he stay on topic, which was not Bill Clinton.
He then blocked me. <shrug>

When we assume an entire group of people can be or should be defined by a single, simple trait, behavior, action or attitude, we are generalizing. (e.g., women want to be wives, men are better at sports, people on welfare don't want to work, etc.)

When we judge an entire group of people (a gender, a race, a religion, a sexual orientation) by the actions...or our perception...of a few, then we have generalized.

EXAMPLE: As a person of faith, I often hear scathing (but generalized) indictments about "Christians." Admittedly, too many of the more vocal and visible ones (e.g., Franklin Graham) are vile, but not representative of all of us. I certainly don't want to be seen as having anything in common with his brand of hatred, isolation and political agenda. 

One of the problem with generalizations is the risk of setting up a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Our perception is our reality. 
And we will only see examples that confirm our preconceptions. ("See, I knew it!")

If we expect black people to be thugs, it can blind us to any actions to the contrary.

If we assume women to be weak and overly emotional, that's all we can see.

If we've decided all overweight people are undisciplined and lazy, we won't notice anything else.

If we believe all gay people are immoral, any behavior that doesn't reinforce that perception could go unnoticed.

If we're convinced all Muslims are terrorism, we will tend to ignore any other explanations. (e.g., White men who commit acts of terrorism will be designated as "unstable" or "disgruntled.")

If we think all Christians are homophobic, we can't hear from those who are not.

Who wants to be summarized or stereotyped?
Does anyone appreciate being categorized, based on prejudices or preconceptions?
Do any of us neatly fit into the generalizations of others?

Are we the sum total of any one aspect of our life? 

For the record, I’m mindful of my own prejudices and preconceptions.
And I confess: I'm guilty of employing "brooms and blankets" at times.
I get frustrated, and talk about "the Church," as if my evaluation is an accurate measurement of “all” churches. I rant about Republicans, but deep down, I suspect there are those who are not like what we see and hear in current leadership. (Where are they?)
It’s something I’ve written about in the past, and an area where I’m seeking to be more sensitive. 

Obviously, we should speak out and stand against the dangerous elements of extreme, right-wing politics and religion in our country these days. And there are clearly common deplorable elements we can denounce, without employing "brooms and blankets."

In our quest to expose the insanity, let’s not become guilty of the same deceptive tactics, misinformed stereotypes and blatant over-simplifications used by the very people we oppose. “All,” “Always” and “Every” declarations are not helpful. Or accurate. (Besides, when it comes to the foolishness and fanaticism of Tea Party’ers and Fundamentalists, there are enough specifics to clearly make our point. We don’t have to generalize!)

EXAMPLE: The national Republican platform affirms so-called "conversion therapy," so I often make the statement "Republicans oppose the LGBTQ community." In reality, I imagine there are individual Republicans (voters and candidates) who don't support this kind of treatment, though they are exceptions. And, in my opinion, they are deafeningly silent! 
Obviously, I should make an effort to avoid including "all" Republicans in my opposition and accusations.
(At this point, I won't quibble about the fact they are still affiliated with a Party that's gone on record with their disdain for LGBTQ people. It's the same caution I try to use when fair-mind, inclusive friends go to churches that preach against LGBTQ people. The contradiction is their's to sort out.) 

Again, you may know one or two things about me, but if you try to define me by your perception of those elements, you would be wrong!

I am not all men.
I am not all Christians.
I am not all white people.
I am not all gay men.
I am not all Democrats.
I am not all Texans.

Employing deceptive terms, misinformed stereotypes, sweeping generalizations and blatant over-simplifications is not helpful for our discussions. It's inaccurate and unfair.
That narrow-minded thinking is the very basis of bigotry.


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